Today, I’m musing about maturity. The most recent issue of National Geographic has an article about orphan elephants. I received two take-home lessons from the article: 1) Maturity is contagious. 2) Direct contact is required for the transmission of maturity.

One incident that occurred in South Africa involved some traumatized orphaned elephants that grew up with no contact with adult elephants. These elephants engaged in violent behaviors that had never, ever, been seen or reported in elephants in all the years that humans have been watching and studying elephants. Some people wanted to simply kill these “hoodlums”. Dr. Joyce Poole, someone with decades of experience working with elephants, proposed a life-saving intervention that proved to be a permanent cure. The never-recorded-in-elephant-history behavior was the killing of more than 40 rhinoceroses.  First they would tease the rhinoceroses—using their trunks to spray them with water, progressing to the throwing sticks stones. Finally, they would stomp them to death. The curative medicine was to bring in a small number of older bull elephants. While the delinquents were strong and scary and totally unrelated to the introduced mature adults, the killings stopped immediately.

I have led a blessed life. My idyllic Wisconsin childhood has me indebted to various adults who assisted me to avoid a path of delinquency. Next thing I knew I was “Professor and Blood Stem Cell Research Scientist, Peter W. Gasper, DVM, PhD”. More importantly, I was living a dream life in Fort Collins Colorado. I was the father of three wondrous children, a community-minded soccer coach, the church-going son of Wayne and Virginia Gasper. Today I can see, that despite a couple of personal concerns, I continue to be living a dream life. This Musing is about what elephants can teach us about maturity, however.

My kids are now 35, 30, and my “baby” is about to turn 28 (AND get married). In the last two years, both of my parents passed away.  My kids were raised as Unitarians. They came of age in the Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins. My parents were forever changed by Pastor Davis of Neenah’s Calvary Baptist Church. They moved to Ohio before the church on Isabella Street was sold and became, what is today, Calvary Bible Church. Once in Ohio, my father served as the Lay Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Greenhills in Cincinnati. This church was epicenter of my folks’ life for 38 years. Before joining the Republic (MI) First United Methodist Church, my church was what Robert Pirsig (author of the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) called “The Church of Reason”; Prisig’s label for universities.

As I look at what is occurring within the lives of my friends and family. As I witness what is unfolding within my community, within my Wisconsin, within my “United” (quotes intentional) States of America, I am filled with sorrow. I see immaturity everywhere. In my opinion, we desperately need something like whatever it was that was transmitted from the bull elephants to the lost and confused teenage elephants.

I wonder if we all can back up and look at our community with the same skill with which we observe and celebrate the saving of orphaned elephants? What are the attributes of the human-equivalent of a bull (or cow) elephant? I just turned 57. Each of the grownups I’ve met, whether as a veterinary scientist or as a preacher’s kid, have all been peacefully confident and humbly teachable. It is clear: maturity has nothing to do with one’s age or with one’s intelligence or on-paper credentials. The National Geographic article notes: “Any wild elephant group is one large highly sensitive organism. Most of the orphans recover to become wild elephants again. They return in wary, halting, half-measures at first, caught between a deep devotion to their human caregivers and the irresistible call of their true selves.”

Published in the Waupaca County Post East newspaper, 9/29/11.



Check out this clip from “60 Minutes” telling about the project. “The Delinquents”





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *